Think small: sector encouraged to reach out to SMEs

Former CBI head says interaction’s the key to productivity

June 6, 2013

Growth advice: innovation is key

UK universities must improve the way they collaborate with small businesses or risk stifling national productivity, an expert has warned.

Sir Richard Lambert, former director general of the CBI and ­current chancellor of the University of Warwick, said UK institutions had fallen behind their European neighbours in terms of how they engage with small companies, thus jeopardising innovation.

Speaking at the Global University Summit 2013, Sir Richard said it was “much easier” for large firms to collaborate with UK universities because “they know where the ­talent is, they know about intellectual property protocols…It’s a much harder story to reach out to smaller firms, partly because [they] tend not to know where the front door of the university is, partly because they have been so busy keeping alive in difficult times that they haven’t had the time to go and look for research efforts.”

He told Times Higher Education that if more small and medium-sized enterprises engaged with higher education, the UK would “move up the innovation league tables”, adding that innovation is “the key to productivity growth”.

“If you look at the UK and compare it with Germany or France, you see there is less engagement by small firms with universities,” he noted.

Sir Richard urged institutions to look at ways to encourage interaction, praising Aston University for the development of a scheme that allows SMEs to apply for up to £5,000 worth of vouchers to fund collaboration with academics.

The scheme was rolled out nationally by the Technology ­Strategy Board last October.

“The government also has a role to play,” Sir Richard added, saying that it was “very important that the Higher Education Innovation Fund is sustained” and not subject to cuts.

He also called on less receptive small companies, which were “not energetic enough” in their efforts to collaborate, to “wake up and smell the coffee”.

Listen to our podcast from the Global University Summit 2013.

chris.parr@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Reader's comments (1)

My most difficult task as a new academic in 1985, was to encourage the establishment of Small Business and Entrepreneurship courses. Most of the Business School staff had studied and research in the area of the Corporates, Multi-Nationals, and Governments, and failed to comprehend how important the SME sector was to the economy. I finally convinced my university to pursue the SME sector in their teaching and research by undertaking innovative research to prove my point. This certainly ruffled a few feathers, but I persevered and developed an international reputation for my university in the SME field, so much so that European students chose to undertake some of their coursework in Australia. I collaborated with the local Small Business Development Centre and established a program whereby students would undertake research for the SBDCs clients. The opportunity is out there, one just have to be more proactive and go into the marketplace to find the need, and then to discuss with the SME owners in terms they understand - this is just basic selling skills, which I earned my livelihood from for many years. It's all about "getting back to the basics" and "keeping it simple".

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest